March 30-31, 2018
“So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’”
This week, Christians find themselves drawn into the story of Holy Week, journeying with Jesus from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to the intimacy of the upper room, to the horror and shame of the cross, and ultimately to the victory of the empty tomb. In this journey the Lord enters into the chaos and brokenness of this world and speaks order and life. He hears the cries of his people and responds with perfect love and compassion.
In this journey, Jesus turns the values of this world upon their head, showing us in the process the true nature of his rule and reign. Jesus isn’t a king who conquers by force or military might. He instead conquers through humility, self-denial, and love. This is a kind of conquering that the world has never known! This isn’t how earthly kings are meant to rule and reign. They reign by might and brute force. Yet Jesus says,
“… ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’” (John 18:36)
Jesus’ suffering and journey to the cross was not an accident, nor was he overpowered against his will. No, Jesus’ self-sacrifice is fundamental to the character of God and the nature of His Kingdom. And here’s why this is so important for us: our Christian journey is an invitation to follow Jesus in the way of Jesus!
We don’t follow Jesus by saying “I’m so glad Jesus was humble so now I can be prideful” or “I’m so glad Jesus endured suffering with great joy so now I can live a carefree and indulgent life and take by force whatever I want.” That would be ridiculous! Yet sometimes, we seem to forget the way in which the cross shapes and defines the nature of this journey we’re on.
Our journey of following Christ is primarily shaped and influenced by Jesus’ own journey, a journey that led him to the cross.
Christian discipleship is a journey in Jesus’ footsteps to the cross. And so, this cruciform life, this cross-shaped life, is not simply a journey down the “yellow brick road.” It is a journey shaped and marked by the cross! Let us rejoice today in the reign and rule of Jesus as the true king of heaven and earth, and may we with courage and faith choose to follow in his footsteps.
“that I [Paul] may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)
How does the upside down nature of Jesus’ rule and reign reshape your own journey and give you courage to walk through hard seasons of life?
March 29, 2018
EVERY GIFT STARTS AS A SPARK
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,”
I love it when something in Scripture jumps off the page to bolster me. That’s what happened to me a few days ago when I was reading 2 Timothy in which Paul is telling Timothy:
“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, or God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:6-7)
This passage reminded me of four truths regarding the use of God-given gifts. If you sometimes feel fearful to use your gifts, you are discouraged because you aren’t as skilled at using your God-given gifts as you like to be, or you wonder if you have the capability, these four points are for you.
God-given gifts begin as sparks. It may seem small, insignificant, and that it’s really not helping anyone or doing much good. But that’s often how great gifts begin. That’s why we must “fan them” into a flame. How do you do that? By using them. You practice. If you have the gift of preaching, preach. If you have the gift of writing, write. If you can sing, sing. And remember not to compare yourself to someone who has been “fanning their gift into flame” for a long time. Their gift also started out as a spark. You will not do it perfectly, but God will perfect what you do.
You have permission to use your gift because God gave it. Sometimes I hear people who love to write and have a gift for it say that they aren’t sure if they should share what they have written with others. Maybe they feel ashamed, embarrassed or vulnerable. But here’s great news: If you have a gift, you have permission to use it. God gave it. He meant for it to be used to build up the body.
You can use your gift with boldness and power because you have been given the spirit of power. Sometimes, we can get hung up on what we can do and how much we are accomplishing. But if we remember that we operate in our gifting with God’s power, then we might be more prone to lean on Him. You can be bold because God is working through you to glorify Himself through your gift, and that’s lots of fun!
When you use your gifts, use them in love. Paul says that God has given us not only a spirit of power, but a spirit of love. Sometimes, it can be so easy to get caught up in what we are accomplishing and how much we are doing, that we forget why we are doing it. If you have a gift and you use it, but you don’t use it in love, it’s just no good.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1)
Use one of your God-given gifts boldly today and thank God for giving it to you.
A LOST SOUL IN NEED OF THE CROSS
“Jesus answered, ‘It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.’ So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’”
A deceived mindset is a soul that flirts with spiritual death. Indeed it is from our soul that we first embrace hope or despair, truth or lies, faith or fear, security or insecurity, acceptance or rejection, love or hatred, God or Satan. A soul that gives up on God gives in to the god of this world–the devil. Thus, a soul is at risk when it is preoccupied with vain imaginations that leaves out, even betrays the Lord. A soul that does not care about Christ is in need of serious soul care.
Judas, though familiar with matters of faith, decided that faith did not matter. His conflicted soul surrendered to short term selfish desire rather than riding out the storm with righteous motives. He would learn the painful lesson that consequences last when the deeds are past. Jesus found him out, even before He was outed by His betrayer. The Lord Christ knew God’s bigger purpose was at work, so He let him go. Judas sacrificed his soul at the altar of Satan’s shenanigans and said:
“…’I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:4-5)
A nation’s soul is at risk when Christ continues to be pushed out of the culture’s conversation. Tolerance for everything but the truth of Scripture will kill the soul of our country. If the ideals that once made America great are put to death, we will no longer be great, but a shell of what we used to be. The soul of a nation can avoid spiritual sacrifice by remaining loyal to the Lord God Almighty. If our actions betray Jesus we lose God’s favor, but if we obey Jesus we gain God’s favor!
The good news is a soul who receives the love of their heavenly Father finds life. Life with purpose. Life with love. Life with joy. Life with peace. Jesus provides the best soul care. Our churches who rediscover their souls will flourish with the salvation of lost souls. Disciples will multiply, families will be fortified and God will be glorified. As we pour out our soul in praise to the Lord we are energized by eternal matters. A soul who hopes in God is made alive for Christ. The cross is Christ’s invitation for a lost soul to be found and to find rest in His forgiveness.
“These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation” (Psalm 42:4-5)
Who can you invite to church this Easter to hear of the hope in Christ?
March 27, 2018
MAKE GOD GREAT AGAIN
2 Samuel 7:22
“Therefore you are great, O LORD God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.”
As a child I can remember praying over meals, “God is good, God is great”, and singing, “How Great Thou Art"” Respect and recognition of God was assumed, there was no room for pride.
But along life’s journey I noticed a national shift toward dismissing, ignoring and otherwise denying the Lord, His greatness and His glory, instead of embracing the self-evident need for a Savior, because of our sins. Some labeled Christians criminal, even blamed for our problems. Really? How did we get here? What do we need to do? We need to make God great again! He is already great with or without our acknowledgement, but for our own good we must love and revere Him.
Even though King David was the most powerful person in the land, he humbly acknowledged his Sovereign Lord who reigned over all mankind. His reverent prayer recognized God as responsible for his position and the provider of national security and personal liberties. The Lord’s greatness overshadowed and captivated the one-time shepherd on the hillsides of Israel, who now, thanks to God’s sovereign plan, shepherded a nation. The earthly king prayed to and worshiped the King of Kings because of his desperate dependence on the Lord. David made God great, because He was great. The favor of the Lord rested on him, because he rested in Him!
“And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” (Nehemiah 8:6)
How can we make God great again? One way is to value life created in His image. As long as the life of a baby in the womb is threatened, so all life outside the womb will be threatened. I wonder if school shooters might show greater restraint if our culture embraced all life as worthy of life---all life: the mentally ill, the handicapped, the diseased and those at the point of death. When we make God great again we will emulate His high value of human life---all created in His image.
How can we make God great again? When we are broken over what breaks His heart. Prayer-less and proud pew sitters break God’s heart. Will we as the people of God humble ourselves and pray, confessing our sins and our desperate dependence on the Lord Almighty? Broken families break God’s heart. Are we broken over the epic breakdown of the family to the point of strengthening our families and practically resourcing other families? Worship of affluence breaks God’s heart. Are we broken over greed’s control and compelled to radical generosity? We can make God great again by publicly and privately honoring the majestic name of Almighty God!
“Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.” (1 Chronicles 29:11)
How can you engage by serving in an area of need that breaks God’s heart?
March 26, 2018
THE PASSOVER LAMB
“and [Jesus] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,"
The last of the plagues the Lord brought on Egypt before evacuating the Israelites was the death of the firstborn son. In order for the Jews to escape, they had to put a lamb’s blood over the door posts so the angel of death would pass over them. Thereafter, according to the Lord’s instructions, the Jews have celebrated Passover. It was no accident that Christ’s crucifixion happened during Passover. Jesus was the Passover lamb:
“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7)
He shed His blood so God’s wrath passes over those who trust in Him. John the Baptist introduced Jesus by saying:
“… ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29)
As you approach Holy Week and Easter, thank the Father for the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and His promise to believers of eternal life:
“in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Titus 1:2)
Aim to glorify Him in all you think, say and do – and when others ask about the hope you have, be ready with an answer:
“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15)
Pray that many will turn to Christ and that God will continue to pour out His mercy and grace.
March 25, 2018
KIND TO THE NEEDY
“Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.”
The needy have unmet needs that cripple their ability to live life to its fullest. It may be the need for food, clothing, or a place to live. They may need a job, a car, or an opportunity to get ahead. The needy may be lost in their sins without Christ, which is the greatest of needs. Wherever their point of need lies is our obligation to kindly care for them.
“Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’” (Matthew 19:21)
Evidence of our following Jesus is shown by our caring concern for the poor. Our kindness may require us to give up something so that another can gain something. Perhaps there is a fun trip you give up so a poor person can enjoy food for a month. What financial expenditure can you put on pause? Do you know someone who could benefit from a car repair or a mortgage payment? Sacrifice solicits most when the need of others is highest.
“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” (Proverbs 14:31)
Furthermore, the best motivation for reaching out is kindness of heart, not guilt of mind. It is a kind word that lifts another person’s spirit. It is a generous gratuity to a diligent server. It is a gentle response to a demanding spirit. The needy are all around us, especially during economic downturns. Maybe there is a neighbor who is out of work whom you can invite into your home for dinner and encouragement. Kindness is a culprit of compassion and care.
Lastly, look out for the needy because of the Lord’s great love toward you. Kindness asks, “Where would I be without God’s grace? Where in my life can I extend His grace, love, and mercy?” Blessings await those who give and receive kindness. We are all needy, some more than others, but our provider is the same—Jesus Christ.
“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;” (Lamentations 3:22)
Who in your life is in need that you can show kindness to in Jesus’ name?
March 24, 2018
CHERRY BLOSSOMS IN SPRING RAIN
“For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
In Japan, the cherry blossom represents the beauty and fragility of life. It is a reminder that life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful but that it also may be tragically short. When the cherry blossom trees bloom for a short time each year in brilliant force, they serve as a visual reminder of how precious and how precarious life is. The stunning blooms may last little more than a week, and may fall even more quickly -- in lovely showers of petals -- if unpredictable spring weather turns windy or rainy. So, when Japanese people come together to view the cherry blossom trees and marvel at their beauty, they aren't just thinking about the flowers themselves, but also about the larger meaning and deep cultural tradition of the cherry blossom tree.
I can rejoice even in sorrow. For I know God will bring about good from all these things. He has promised me this, and one day, all that is wrong with the world will be made right. One day, we will be reunited with loved ones gone to soon. One day, His perfect love will forever cast out fear and sorrow. He has promised these things to those who belong to Him. He has promised good to me. He has promised good to His children.
He tells us to:
“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
How often do we really truly consider what that means? It means we are to praise Him, in the midst of the rain. We are to praise Him, and we are to give Him thanks for everything! Thanks for the long hard road we have walked, we are walking and we may be walking for some time. Thanks for all the blessings that He gives each and every day. And we should ever ask Him to open our eyes, allow us not to miss the gifts He gives, allow us not to fall into fear or despair.
The beautiful song, “Cherry Blossoms in Rain”, when played on the piano, makes use of only the black keys. The dark keys, when the right fingers are touching them, make something beautiful. If we trust God, if we live a life of thanksgiving, if we take the joy He offers even in the hard things, then our sorrows can be like the black keys on the piano. With His fingers upon them, something beautiful, something useful, something powerful can and will occur.
Take a moment and listen to the beautiful song, "Cherry Blossoms in Rain."
March 23, 2018
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
Sometimes . . . God is wanting to do something "new" and yet we are still stuck in the "old." It is hard at times to let go of what is familiar, and what we know. It seems easier to stay "comfortable," to just keep going with the flow, not to mess anything up. But then "new" happens, and often sends us spiraling on one big, long loop.
For those who like change, "new" is mostly exciting. For those who don't like change, "new" is mostly stressful. Maybe you are a mix of these two traits. But here is what I love about God. He thinks and works outside our own box of thinking. He doesn't always work in the ways that we would have chosen for our "new." If we had to have a "new."
He sees the big picture. He knows what He's doing. He works behind the scenes of life that unfold every day, in the places where we can't always see or understand all the “why's.”
So we can trust that He has our best in mind. That He's got our back. He’s with us right now. And He's secured our future too. Sometimes our "new" comes out of great blessing, new opportunities. And sometimes it comes through great pain, huge loss.
People move, life happens, decisions are made, many change jobs, kids grow up, and there are times we might go through some really tough struggles. We may even start to feel cheated. Like life is unfair. But it still breathes this truth: God is not finished with our lives yet. You are still here. And He has great purpose in all that you walk through, even in every life change and new season.
Whether we recognize it or not, we are rubbing shoulders every day with people we needed to meet in our "new," however hard that new thing may be. We can rest in His care for us. He knows. He sees. He works in ways we don't always "get," but there is peace in knowing we don't have to try to control it all. We can let go--of the need to figure it all out, and the striving to make things happen.
We can trust Him.
Our future awaits, and the best is still around the bend. God has more in store.
March 22, 2018
HAVE YOU SHARPENED YOUR AXE?
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
A young man approached the foreman of a logging crew and asked for a job. "That depends," replied the foreman. "Let's see you fell this tree." The young man stepped forward and skillfully felled a great tree. Impressed, the foreman exclaimed, "You can start Monday."
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday rolled by. Thursday afternoon the foreman approached the young man and said, "You can pick up your paycheck on the way out today."
Startled, the young man replied, "I thought you paid on Friday."
"Normally we do," said the foreman. "But we're letting you go today because you've fallen behind. Our daily felling charts show that you've dropped from first place on Monday to last place today."
"But I'm a hard worker," the young man objected. "I arrive first, leave last and even have worked through my coffee breaks!"
The foreman, sensing the young man's integrity, thought for a minute and then asked, "Have you been sharpening your axe?"
The young man replied, "No sir, I've been working too hard to take time for that!"
Our lives are like that. We sometimes get so busy that we don't take time to "sharpen the ax." In today's world, it seems that everyone is busier than ever but less happy than ever. Why is that? Could it be that we have forgotten how to stay sharp?
There's nothing wrong with activity and hard work. But God doesn't want us to get so busy that we neglect the truly important things in life, like taking time to pray, to read and study scripture or to listen to "the still small voice of God."
We all need time to relax, to think and meditate, to learn and grow. If we don't take time to sharpen the axe, we will become dull and lose our effectiveness. Take time today to sharpen your axe!
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
March 21, 2018
SEASONS OF CHANGE
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
What is it about a simple change in the weather that can bring out the best in people? It is almost as if each new season is a new beginning of sorts. Spring’s representation of newness especially stirs up changes in our souls.
The Bible also references new changes and beginnings in our lives as being seasons. Seasons are metaphors for God's perfect timing in delivering us through all the changes He makes in our lives. These seasons can bring about blessings from following Him through those changes even when we do not fully understand or welcome them.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
This scripture tells us to never give up. No matter how long, strenuous and painstaking the road or trials are in our lives, there is always a new season ahead, a season of new beginnings.
Every day we can make the decision to begin again. We can adopt a positive mindset to overcome, conquer, and live triumphantly. All beginnings must eventually come to an end so a new beginning, a new season, can commence. We need to take the opportunity to look ahead at what can be and forget the what-might-have-beens. We can challenge ourselves to be better, live higher, rise above our own self-appointed limitations. We can look ahead to a new season of thinking, speaking, acting and living more like Jesus. Each subtle change we implement will eventually take root and manifest itself into our days, weeks, months and years.
A beautiful tree full of wonderful green foliage and rich, ripened fruit can offer shelter, nourishment, and shade, but only temporarily. The leaves eventually turn brilliant hues of crimsons, golds, reds and oranges, offering us a wonderful spectacle to behold, a brushstroke of genius only God can artfully paint. Then, those leaves must fall, leaving that beautiful tree bare and vulnerable as it must survive the harshest of seasons.The tree must go through that season to begin a new life, a new cycle, with budding blossoms fragrant and beautiful.
“He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:3)
We need to be incessantly grateful and thank God continually even when our future seems very unclear. We can still stay firmly planted in faith so we will never wither; but always prosper and produce good fruit.
All glory comes then from daring to begin, daring to change, ushering in each new season, and forever trusting God with each unpredictable new step. Never stop believing and growing. We can never fully know what God's intentions are for us, but we can always do our absolute best with where He has placed us right now.
March 20, 2018
FIVE WAYS GOD USES PROBLEMS
“When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
The problems you face will either defeat you or develop you - depending on how you respond to them. Unfortunately, most people fail to see how God wants to use problems for good in their lives. They react foolishly and resent their problems rather than pausing to consider what benefit they might bring.
Here are five ways God wants to use the problems in your life:
1. God uses problems to DIRECT you.
Sometimes God must light a fire under you to get you moving. Problems often point us in a new direction and motivate us to change. Is God trying to get your attention?
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”(Proverbs 3:5-6)
2. God uses problems to INSPECT you.
People are like tea bags... if you want to know what's inside them, just drop them into hot ever water! Has God tested your faith with a problem? What do problems reveal about you?
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (James 1:2-3)
3. God uses problems to CORRECT you.
Some lessons we learn only through pain and failure. It's likely that as a child your parents told you not to touch a hot stove. But you probably learned by being burned. Sometimes we only learn the value of something by losing it.
“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71)
4. God uses problems to PROTECT you.
A problem can be a blessing in disguise if it prevents you from being harmed by something more serious. Last year a friend was fired for refusing to do something unethical that his boss had asked him to do. His unemployment was a problem - but it saved him from being convicted and sent to prison a year later when management's actions were eventually discovered.
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)
5. God uses problems to PERFECT you.
Problems, when responded to correctly, are character builders. God is far more interested in your character than your comfort. Your relationship to God and your character are the only two things you're going to take with you into eternity.
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,”(Romans 5:3-4)
Here's the point:
God is at work in your life - even when you don't recognize it or understand it. But it's so much easier when you surrender to his plan for your life.
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
March 17-18, 2018
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
“The captain has turned on the seat belt sign, indicating that we are entering an area of turbulence. Please return to your seats immediately and securely fasten your seat belt.” Flight attendants give that warning when necessary because in rough air, unbuckled passengers can be injured. Secured in their seats, they can safely ride out the turbulence.
Most of the time, life doesn’t warn us of the unsettling experiences coming our way. But our loving Father knows and cares about our struggles, and He invites us to bring our cares, hurts, and fears to Him. The Scriptures tell us:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15–16)
In seasons of turbulence, going to our Father in prayer is the best thing we can do. The phrase “grace to help us when we need it”—means that in His presence we can be “buckled” in peace during threatening times, because we bring our concerns to the One who is greater than all! When life feels overwhelming, we can pray. He can help us through the turbulence.
March 17, 2018
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
I like living a “with” life. For example, “I’m so glad you’re taking this class with me.” “It’s going to be awesome having you start this new exercise routine with me.” “I love that you’re partnering with me on this new project.”
“With” is wonderful, but there are times when “with” just doesn’t work—especially when God has an assignment for you that requires you to walk alone.
You may have to walk the path of launching an organization or ministry alone. You may need to start a new health plan alone, or work to be a change maker at work alone. And, because you’ll be forging a new path, and perhaps shaking things up for Jesus, the people around you—and maybe even those you love the most—may not join you in your new endeavor. In fact, they may not support you because they may not believe that what you are doing is wise, prudent, or possible.
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
Let me encourage you. Don’t let anyone hold you back from getting free, stepping up, moving forward, moving on, or moving out. Don’t let anyone stop you from fulfilling God’s plans, obeying Him, and glorifying Him. Don’t give others permission to define what is and isn’t possible. If God says you can, you can.
I’m not talking about pumping yourself up with the false doctrine of “I can and the power is in me.” I’m talking about embracing the power that God has given you in the Holy Spirit and the power He will provide when you agree with Him and begin your journey. Your new journey is about agreeing with what God has said about you, and what He says about Himself.
The good news is that sometimes you just need to start walking down the path He has designed for you—and others may start to follow. But in the beginning, it may just be you and the Lord.
You may need to grieve that those you love and admire won’t walk with you. Make sure you don’t allow pride or unforgiveness to become your companion as you move into God’s purposes. Instead, continue to extend grace to others. Becoming more like Him isn't just fulfilling the purposes He has set before you. Most importantly, it’s about loving when loving is hard. It’s about extending grace toward those who don’t support you.
There may be times when others may feel threatened by your courage and new change. And because they feel threatened, new tensions may arise in your relationships. Keep walking with Jesus. Consult God about your journey. And keep extending grace.
“For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.” (Psalm 26:3)
Also remember that you don’t need to be threatened by the differences between yourself and those you love. Love can reveal its finest self when the adversity of differences shines. This is your moment to allow your calling to be the catalyst to transform you into a more loving person. Let God refine you while you walk the path alone.
There are times when even those who are closest to you won't want to walk with you. You will walk the path into fulfilling your desires alone. But you won’t truly be alone. The Lord is with you. You can do it.
“… I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
Take five minutes to talk with the Lord about how to rest in His approval and not strive to please other noisy voices.
March 16, 2018
SWORD OR SCALPEL?
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Words of great leaders have brought healing and hope to nations, such as Winston Churchill’s, “Sure I am of this, that you have only to endure to conquer.” Words also bring discouragement, death and destruction. Words can be sharp like swords, wounding the hearts of the people you are speaking to or about, but they can also be sharp like a surgeon’s knife, cutting out the bad tissue to enable healing.
“… the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
People often rebel at the truth because it can mean letting go of something valued, or involve making changes difficult to implement. Many doctrines abound; usually the most pleasant are the most popular.
Yield to God’s Word, though it may be uncomfortable. Allow Him to work in you, from the inside out until the adjustments you need to make become less difficult. Speak words in agreement with His, words that unite, build up and strengthen, not divide or tear down.
March 15, 2018
2 John 1:8-9
“Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”
In just a few short sentences, 2 John reminds us of a persistent temptation that we must actively and intentionally resist. Though many of us may follow the Lord faithfully for years, actively seeking to join him in the work of his Kingdom and the renewing work of his Spirit, it is still possible to carelessly lose focus of the Lord and turn away from the life he invites us to lead. While this can at times result in a complete loss of faith, it is often more subtle and difficult to identify. We still profess faith and even seek to follow Jesus with our lives, yet we want to follow him on our terms, and as this passage reminds us, at our pace.
When Jesus invites people to be his disciples, he says:
“And he said to them, ’Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’” (Matthew 4:19)
Jesus leads, we follow. This is life as it is meant to be. It is the surest path to a faithful, meaningful, and fulfilled life. It doesn’t guarantee a painless or trouble free journey. There are always trials and sorrows along the way, yet Jesus leads us through them and we are safe and secure when he is our guide and shepherd.
And yet, each and every one of us faces the temptation to “run ahead” of Jesus. It’s hard to stay in line, trusting that he knows what’s best, that he sees a way forward when everything seems to be falling apart. The very first disciples had to learn this lesson, and in our own lives we must do the same.
“But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’” (Matthew 16:23)
Are there ways that you have run ahead of Jesus? Have you found yourself battling impatience and frustration with God’s pace and lack of urgency in answering a prayer or resolving a tense situation? Could it be that he wants you to stay in line behind him and learn to trust that he knows what he’s doing and that his timing is perfect?
We run ahead of God thinking we know what is best, yet this passage reminds us that we can run ahead so fast that we lose God in the process. Yet if you and I continue in the slow and faithful work of discipleship, the Scriptures promise that God is with us and will draw us closer and closer into relationship with himself!
Are there any ways you have run ahead of Jesus in your life with him?
March 14, 2018
“A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.”
Voltaire is credited with saying, “Common sense is not so common.” What was true in the eighteenth century—and dare it be said, at the time of King Solomon as well— is no less true today. According to Merriam-Webster, common sense is “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.”
It isn’t complicated. But it seems the people who do have common sense are rapidly becoming a minority. Look at what goes on in Congress. Listen to their debates. It often seems as though both houses forsook common sense long ago.
Today’s verse seems a common sense statement. Be kind or be cruel, either way it comes back to you. Jesus often spoke common sense things to His followers:
“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?“ (Matthew 7:9)
“A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” (Matthew 7:18)
“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.” (Luke 11:33)
It is a common sense thing for believers to seek and follow God’s will. If His will is not clear to you, follow Proverbs, which says:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”(Proverbs 3:5-6)
Won’t you ask God today to help you live a common sense Christian life; and while you ask it of yourself, intercede also for others, especially those in positions of authority.
March 13, 2018
ALL THAT IS PRECIOUS
1 Peter 2:4
“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,”
Throughout my life, I have accumulated a lot of stuff. I have boxes of things that at one time were important to me but over time have lost their intrigue. And, as an unrepentant collector, I have realized that the thrill is in searching for and acquiring a new piece to add to the collection. Then my attention turns toward the hunt for the next item.
While we pile up many things that seem important to us, very little of it is really precious. In fact, over time I have learned that the most precious things in life are not material items at all. Rather, it is the people who have loved me and built into my life who are precious. When I find my heart saying, “I don’t know what I would do without them,” I know that they are indeed precious to me.
So when Peter refers to Jesus as “a cornerstone chosen and precious” , it should resonate in our hearts that He is truly precious — our prized treasure above everything and everyone else.
“For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’” (1 Peter 2:6)
Where would we be today without the constant unfailing companionship of His faithful presence, wise and perfect guidance, merciful patience, comfort, and transforming reproof? What would we do without Him? I can’t even imagine!
Do you know the joy of reveling in Jesus and His loving presence and provision in your life?
March 12, 2018
1 John 4:11
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
His name was David, but most just called him “the street fiddler.” David was a disheveled, older man who was a regular fixture in popular places in our city, serenading passers-by with unusual skill at his violin. In exchange for his music, listeners would sometimes place a dollar in the open instrument case before them on the sidewalk. David would smile and nod his head in thanks as he continued to play.
When David died recently and his obituary appeared in a local paper, it was revealed that he spoke several languages, was the graduate of a prestigious university, and had even run for the state senate years ago. Some expressed surprise at the extent of his accomplishments, having assessed him on the basis of appearance alone.
Scripture tells us that:
“…God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
This reveals an inherent worth within each of us, regardless of how we look, what we have achieved, or what others may think of us. Even when we chose to turn from God in our sinfulness, God valued us so much that He sent His only Son to show us the way to salvation and eternity with Him.
We are loved by God, and all around us are those who are precious to Him. May we express our love for Him in return by sharing His love with others.
March 11, 2018
1 Corinthians 11:28
“Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”
Every year I have a physical—that periodic visit to the doctor’s office where I’m poked and prodded, screened and studied. It is something that can be easy to dread, and even to fear. We aren’t sure what the tests will show or what the doctors will say. Still, we know that we need this evaluation to understand our physical well-being and what is needed as we move forward.
The same is true spiritually . . . We need to pause from time to time and reflect on the condition of our hearts and lives.
One place for an important self-study is at the Lord’s Table. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, some of whom were eating in an unworthy manner:
“Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (1 Corinthians 11:28)
In the remembrance of Christ’s death for us, there can be a sobering clarity of thought and understanding, for as we consider the price Jesus paid for us, it is the best time to consider the condition of our heart and our relationships. Then, with honest understanding of our spiritual well-being, we can turn to Him for the grace we need to move forward in His name.
Search me, O God, my heart discern;
Try me, my inmost thoughts to learn.
Help me to keep from sin, I pray,
Guarding my mind throughout this day. —Anonymous
Is it time for your checkup?
March 10, 2018
GOD’S LONG-TERM GOAL
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
Talk about things going horribly wrong. One day Joseph was on top of the world, running an errand for his father, and the next day he literally was in the bottom of a pit. He was sold to Midianite slave traders and ended up in Egypt as a servant in the house of a man named Potiphar.
But through God’s providence, he was elevated to a position of great authority and became the second-most powerful man in the world. He was able to help his father and brothers and do much good. In the end, Joseph, with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, was able to look back and say to his brothers,
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people[a] should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)
I have seen a lot of things happen in my life that I didn’t understand at the time. As a few years have passed by, however, I’m able to look back and see why the Lord allowed what He did. There will be things we go through in life, hardships we experience, difficulties we must face, that will not have a convenient answer. There will be some unanswered questions. There will be some things that, even at the end of our lives, we will not be sure why the Lord allowed.
But on that final day when we stand before Him, all of our questions will be answered. All of our problems will be resolved. As Paul tells us:
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
God allows us to go through trials, but He has a long-term goal: to conform us into the image of Jesus Christ.
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
March 9, 2018
THE GREATEST REWARD
2 Timothy 4:7
”I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
There is an old story about the Greek Marathon. Muscular, conditioned runners paced nervously near the starting line for the long-distance race. The time was near. They "shook out" their muscles, inhaled deeply, and put on their "game faces."
In the midst of it all, a young stranger took his place at the starting line. His physique was awesome. Taking no notice of the other contestants, he stared straight ahead. Two prizes would be awarded the winner of the Marathon: a magnificent bouquet of flowers and the honor of standing beside the king until the conclusion of other contests.
There seemed to be no question among the runners about who would win the prize. It is alleged that the stranger was offered money not to run. Someone else attempted to bribe him with property. Refusing the offers, he toed the mark and awaited the signal to run. When the signal was given, he was the first away. At the finish line, he was the first to cross, well ahead of the rest.
When it was all done, someone asked the young man if he thought the flowers were worth as much as the money and property he had refused. He replied, "I did not enter the race for the flowers. I ran so that I could stand beside my king!"
Those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus Christ are "running the race":
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
It is a race that has a prize for those who finish (notice, not those who finish first, but all who finish). This prize, according to Paul, is an "imperishable wreath.” The rewards for those who enter heaven are described in scripture with a lot of terms -- "many mansions", "streets of gold", "tree of life", and the list goes on and on. All of those things are attractive. That's why God tells us about them.
But I would be willing to give up all the streets of gold and settle for a small corner of a shack as long as I can know the reward of being able to stand beside my King. That's what I look forward to more than anything else. It is the one thing that will make heaven the wonderful reward that it will be.
“No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.” (Revelation 22:3)
Run the race with diligence. Your King is watching and waits for you at the finish line!
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
March 8, 2018
HIDING AND PROCLAIMING GOD'S WORD
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
Growing up in a faithful Christian home, these words from Psalm 119 were shared and known within our family before I could even speak. And for a single verse of Scripture, it certainly covers a lot of ground! It reminds us that God can be known, that he speaks creation into being and sustains it with his word and continually desires to be known by his children. It also reminds us of our inclination to move away from this relationship of love and instead choose the path of autonomy and self-fulfillment.
Sin turns our desires away from the life of God, like a misaligned car that pulls away from the straight path set before it. And so, the remedy presented is to hide the word of God in our hearts, to open ourselves to the renewing presence of God and invite his Spirit to renew and transform us, teaching us what it means to be truly human and fully alive to his work in our lives and in the world.
And yet, if we read this verse in isolation, I fear we may only understand one half of the story. Our transformation into the likeness of Christ is not meant simply for our good or personal happiness. God places his word in our hearts so that we can share that word with the world around us. We are invited to be agents of his Kingdom mission to heal and restore the world.
“I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.” (Psalm 40:10)
Though it may sound paradoxical, the call of God on our lives is to at the same time hide and not hide his word within our hearts. A healthy life of discipleship must pay attention to both of these realities, and in my experience, most of us are more naturally drawn to one or the other.
For some, private prayer and devotion is the heartbeat of your life. You love to meet the Lord in the intimate moments of prayer and meditation, letting your thoughts and desires be formed by his word. Yet the thought of speaking to others about your faith is foreign and unchartered territory! The Lord might be inviting you today to step out in a bold and courageous way.
Likewise, many of us are drawn to an active and public faith. You may feel most alive in times of public worship, evangelism, or service to your community in the name of Christ. And yet, your activism has run ahead of your personal walk with the Lord, and you may be running the risk of burnout and exhaustion. You must nurture your hidden walk with the Lord in order to sustain your love for the needy and the lost.
Hear afresh the words of the Psalms and learn to both faithfully hide and boldly proclaim the word of God!
Is there an imbalance in your life in the area of hiding and proclaiming God’s word? What steps can you take to move towards a healthy balance?
March 7, 2018
WHOSE NAME WAS AT STAKE?
“Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.’”
These were the words of men who planned to build the Tower of Babel. There was every reason why their plans should succeed. They had the know-how. They were all of one mind and they had a common purpose - to accomplish something lasting in life, something that would outlive them.
There was a strange old man named Noah. He built an enormous ark while people laughed at him for years. But he didn't care. He was working under orders - and he was not concerned that he might have looked ridiculous.
The Tower of Babel was a failure...
The Ark became an instrument of success...
Perhaps the difference in accomplishment stemmed from the difference in incentive - "Whose name was at stake?"
"Kings and Kingdoms will all pass away, but there's something about that name" (From "There's Something About That Name" by Bill and Gloria Gaither.)
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
March 6, 2018
IT IS FINISHED!
“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
These words are the next-to-last words Jesus spoke from the cross before He completed His payment for the sins of the world.
What a relief it is for each one of us to disgorge this thought once we have completed an onerous task. We may have looked forward to doing something pleasant, but as time passes we realize the completion is not as near as we had expected. Not only that, but we realize as time goes on that the work is far more burdensome than we had dreamed of, and the end keeps fleeing far ahead of us. But the end result is what drives us onward, because that is a wonderful accomplishment we dreamed of.
I just finished my work of editing and correcting a book I have been working on for two years. I am now assured that the work's end is almost assured. So I am already breathing easier. Now I can look forward to the satisfaction of knowing that at least some people will receive my work as a great benefit to their study of scripture.
In like manner, Jesus had spent not just thirty years on earth, but an eternity in heaven with His Father, working constantly to pay the penalty for every sin of every person who would ever live in the world. He said:
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)
You may balk at the hint of an idea that Jesus died not just for those who receive Him as Savior and Lord but also for all who reject Him. However, John wrote in his first letter:
“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (I John 2:2)
If you are worried about this, one thing you can do is tell as many people as you can about Jesus so that they will receive Him. However, the Greek word for "propitiation" means merely "availability" and not "accomplishment." That is, Jesus' death was truly sufficiently great to pay the full price for every sin. But a word in Romans will ease your concern. There Paul said of Christ:
“whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” (Romans 3:25)
Here the word "propitiation" is a mis-translation of a different Greek word, which here should be "expiation" and means complete expungement of sin. This expiation is effective only, as Paul says, "through faith, in his blood." Christ's blood was sufficient to save everyone, but did save only those who believe in Him.
Anyway, Jesus is glad His work of salvation is done. And I'm glad my book is done.
Dr. Thomas R. Teply
March 5, 2018
BEARING YOUR CROSS
“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
When I bear my cross, I give up what I want for what someone else needs. Perhaps I give up a cool opportunity so someone else can enjoy this unique experience. I might give up work travel because my family needs for me to be home, available and all there. Am I willing to give up a new car when someone needs dependable transportation to commute back and forth to their job? What want of mine is the Spirit leading me to give up, so others can gain what they need? Beautifully, in God’s Kingdom, I bear my cross to follow Jesus and gain His precious presence and pleasure.
In the days of Christ, the cross was Rome’s ultimate instrument of death. Tortuous. Horrific. God used a hellish process to accomplish His heavenly outcome. Jesus modeled and taught the path to life is to daily take up my cross---sacrifice, death/forgiveness, life---and follow Him. If I avoid bearing my cross, I miss being a disciple along with the intimate fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. The cost of discipleship is death to my old sinful self and joyfully embodying Christ’s resurrected life.
“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7)
What want of yours is the Spirit prompting you to wait on, as there is ample time for its future fulfillment, while in the meantime you can graciously and happily meet the desperate need of another? Instead of a new house, appliance or car---you can help someone with a mortgage down payment, pay down medical bills or purchase much needed clothes. Your burden of having to wait is much less than someone’s current crisis. As you give up a want you gain God’s peace and love.
The cross you bear may have you at a breaking point. The pain is too heavy and you feel crushed under the weight of worry, weakness and the need for relief. You may feel rejected, misunderstood and forgotten, but your Savior Jesus has walked this painful path and He has not forgotten you. It is for you that He suffered, died and rose from the grave, so your broken heart might be healed by His grace, your burden of shame lifted by His love and your feeling of loneliness filled by His precious presence. Invite Jesus and others to bear your burdens. He will.
“Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
What want do you have that you can give up for another’s real need?
March 4, 2018
“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”
Doubt seeks to destroy our faith. It is in our discouragement—even despair—that we begin to question God. “What did I do wrong?”, “Lord, did you call me to this place of confusion?”, “Where is my joy and hope?”, “Are you even real or just a figment of my imagination?” Left to its natural conclusion, doubt crushes our faith in Christ.
Fortunately, faith does not have to take a furlough when we are frustrated and fatigued. It is in your confinement that Christ wants to remind you of His great power. So cry out to Him in your confused circumstances, and He will earnestly listen in love.
"In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I called. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry came to his ears." (2 Samuel 22:7)
He does not leave His loved ones alone and in doubt.
It is okay to be in doubt, but not to remain in doubt. What doubt challenges your faith in God? Is it His provision, His promises, His presence, His character, or His care? When these questions assault your confidence in Christ, take a step back and review His track record. The reality of your salvation sets you on the productive path of peace and forgiveness. Answered prayer over the years is proof enough of His love and concern.
Furthermore, use this temporary time of distrust to go deeper with Jesus. The pressure you feel on all sides is your Savior’s way of soliciting your attention. When in doubt, seek out the Lord, learn to love Him completely, and discern more fully His profound promises. Use doubt to dig deeper into the truth of Scripture; marinate your mind.
“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8)
When in doubt, stay steadfast in seeking your Savior. Wait on Him, especially when you wonder what is next. Where there is true faith there may be a mixture of unbelief; so remain faithful, even when questions manipulate your faith. Perseverance will one day free you as a stronger and more-committed follower of Christ. See Jesus for who He is. Doubt dissolves in His reassuring presence. Doubt starves to death when it is not fed.
“Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever;” (Psalm 146:5–6)
What doubts do you need to acknowledge and release to God? Is Christ trustworthy?
March 3, 2018
2 Samuel 19:5
“Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, ‘You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life and the lives of your sons and your daughters and the lives of your wives and your concubines,’”
Brutal facts are not always pretty or inviting, but they are reality. Initially brutal news may take you back and even make you feel beat up. But take heart, it is good for bad news to travel fast. You are better off to hear negative news first, before the information becomes filtered through other perspectives, or the facts fester and become worse.
Brutal facts that are not given attention move from an inflamed infection to relational and organizational gangrene. Inevitably an amputation follows; someone or something has be severed. This extreme action could have been avoided if the brutal facts had been revealed, recognized and acted upon. Brutal facts are our friends; so do not dismiss the messenger because the message is bad; he or she is just the delivery person.
Yes, the messenger’s attitude and character may not always be stellar, but the content of their words can be extremely accurate. The wise receiver of brutal facts will extract the “chaff and keep the wheat”. Brutal facts may mean you have lost touch with those who love you the most. In your zeal to provide for them, you have failed to get to know them.
A brutal fact may relate to your finances. What is the reality of your cash situation? Come clean with your spouse and seek accountability from a trusted third party. Perhaps the state of your physical health may be a heart attack waiting to happen. Take care of your ‘temple’ or it will take care of you by collapsing around you. Do you rationalize that all of your activity is for the Lord? The truth is He can get by without any of us just fine.
So where can we find these brutal facts? Your spouse, parent or friend is a good starting point. They have a vested interest in you, so normally their perception of the facts is fairly accurate. Listen with an ear to learn; if you become defensive or argumentative they will eventually shut down. Because they care, they want you to be aware.
Why not change on your own terms rather than being forced to change on another’s? This is the essence of brutal facts—there are some things that need to change. You, the work culture, your family are always in flux, so use this as an opportunity to move from mediocrity to excellence. Embrace the brutal facts, learn from them and become better.
“Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul.’” (2 Samuel 12:7)
Who currently has concerns that you need to seriously consider? How do you need to change?
March 2, 2018
IS THERE A CATFISH IN YOUR TANK?
1 John 3:13
“Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.”
I heard a story about some fish suppliers who were having problems shipping codfish from the East Coast. By the time the fish reached the West coast, they were spoiled. They froze them, but by the time the fish arrived, they were mushy. They decided to send them alive. But the fish arrived dead so they tried sending the fish alive again, but with one difference. They included a catfish in each tank. You see, the catfish is the natural enemy of the codfish. By the time the codfish arrived, they were alive and well, because they had spent their trip fleeing the catfish.
This is my point. Maybe God has put a catfish in your tank to keep you alive and well spiritually. It's called persecution. Maybe there's a person at work who always has eight hard questions for you every Monday morning regarding spiritual things. Maybe it is that neighbor who is giving you a hard time for your faith in Jesus. Maybe it is a spouse or family member who doesn't believe. You are wondering why this is happening. It is like that catfish. That person is keeping you on your toes.
Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus told the disciples,
“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19)
God will allow persecution in the life of the believer. If you're experiencing persecution, here are two things to remember:
1. Persecution confirms that you are a child of God.
2. Persecution causes you to cling closer to Jesus.
When you are suffering persecution for your faith, remember that this world is not your home.
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
March 1, 2018
THE GIFT OF LIFE
1 Corinthians 4:7
“For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”
When I was young, I longed for originality and distinctiveness. I sought to separate myself from those who had nurtured and shaped me in countless ways. I wanted to chart my own course, to be, as we say, an independent and self-made man. And yet, the older I get the more aware I become of my dependence upon others for who I am and what I have.
Life is a gift. In saying this, we often emphasize the value and dignity of every human life, as we rightly should. Yet what do we learn if we weight these words towards the idea of “gift?” Life, our very existence, does not originate with us nor do we will ourselves into being. Creation itself, is gift. It is the overflow of love from the eternal love of the Trinity. We cannot demand to exist, neither can we claim life as a right. All is gift.
St. Paul reminds us of the human temptation to construct false realities. We boast of our accomplishments and believe them to define our sense of worth and success. We exploit the marginalized and oppressed yet believe it is a necessary step towards growth. We ignore the desires and dreams of our neighbors, seeking the good of everyone only to the extent it is first and foremost the good for me. In short, we take and demand what is meant to be given and received.
Lent is a 40-day journey of reorientation to the true nature of reality. We are invited to realign our stories with God’s story, to carve out space to learn what is good, beautiful, and true. It is an opportunity to invite the light of Christ into the dark places of our hearts and lives. And though it is often a painful process of self-denial and repentance, the aim is the restoration of gift.
To receive our own life as a gift given from the Lord, and to rejoice in the beauty and diversity of his creation, join him in calling it “good!” As Ignatius of Loyola once said, “All the things in this world are gifts of God, created for us, to be the means by which we can come to know him better, love him more surely, and serve him more faithfully.”
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)
How can you more fully embrace and celebrate the gift of life this Lenten season?